Think back to when sports were just plain fun and you could play all day, and you were good at every game, too. You were 10. It still sounds the same out there on the field. Hey, batter, batter. It's still fun, and when it's muddy, it's even more fun. Fun and funner -- that's all sports had to be when you were 10. But these days many kids at that age give up sports altogether or arrive at a crossroads, forced to choose among sports in order to excel at one.
In 1978 a real-estate agent showed Colman McCarthy a brick house overlooking Friendship Playground, an Elysium of baseball diamonds and basketball hoops in northwest Washington, D.C. It was the easiest sale that agent would ever make. "Didn't even bother to check the plumbing," remembers McCarthy, a writer and teacher whose three boys grew up playing on what became an extension of the family's front yard. .
Now, on summer weekdays on that very playground, one of those boys, John McCarthy, runs Home Run Baseball Camp. It's an enterprise that nods gratefully to his childhood by recreating a sandlot atmosphere in which kids don't need the intercession of an SUV-driving, PDA-wielding baby boomer parent to amuse themselves.
To be sure, Coach Mac and his staff provide plenty of instruction and motivation. But coaches let campers -- who range in age from five to 13 -- choose teams and make lineups. No one keeps score until the final day of each weekly session. And every day the staff turns over one hour after lunch to free-form play. "They play a lot of pickle and tag-up," says McCarthy. "Some invent games. Some just sit and talk. Our only rule is to stay within the fence. It may look unorganized, but in fact it's very organized. It allows leaders to percolate and develop. When the kids come back to the coaches in the afternoon, they're a more directed group. With a 10-year-old, you want him to fall for the sport hard. He can pick up the details later.